3 December 1971
Indo-Pakistan War began.
The 1971 Indo-Pak War began which culminated in the birth of a new nation Bangladesh.
- At the time of Indian independence from Britain in 1947, the country was also partitioned into India and Pakistan, the latter as a Muslim country.
- At that time, Pakistan was composed of two units, West Pakistan and East Pakistan which was the Muslim-dominated part of the erstwhile Bengal province. Soon after the formation of Pakistan, however, the Bengalis were under-represented in the national government and there were said to be racial tensions between both groups.
- Bengalis felt that their culture was being belittled by the national government. There were movements for the declaration of Bengali as an official language in Pakistan along with Urdu.
- Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the premier Bengali nationalist leader, had announced his six-point programme for provincial autonomy for East Pakistan.
- In the 1970 elections in Pakistan, Mujibur’s party East Pakistani Awami League won a landslide victory losing only 2 out of the 169 seats in the East Pakistan Assembly. This victory also gave the party a simple majority in the central Pakistani Assembly.
- The West Pakistani establishment, instead of allowing Mujibur to form government, called upon the military to crush dissenters in East Pakistan.
- There were protests in East Pakistan in support of Mujibur and a brutal crackdown was initiated by West Pakistan led by Tikka Khan in March 1971. His army led loose a reign of terror in East Pakistan engaging in widespread atrocities against dissenters. He this earned the nickname ‘the Butcher of Bengal’.
- During this time, Mujibur had been arrested and taken to West Pakistan. Several Awami leaders had fled to India seeking protection. There was also a huge inflow of refugees to India and this was proving to be an economic strain on India.
- On 26 March 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman, a veteran of the Pakistani army declared the independence of Bangladesh on radio.
- The government of India under Indira Gandhi was outspoken in its support of the nationalist leaders of East Pakistan and appealed to the international community for help in the crisis.
- GOI also supported the Multi Bahini or the people’s army in East Pakistan. India was giving training to the East Pakistani Bengali nationals in the refugee camps.
- The state governments of West Bengal, Tripura, Bihar, Assam and Meghalaya set up refugee camps along the border.
- On 3rd December 1971, Pakistan launched pre-emptive strikes on Indian airfields including in Agra. That same evening, Indira Gandhi declared on radio that the strikes were seen as a declaration of war against India. This was India’s entry into the war.
- That same night, India responded with retaliatory air strikes against Pakistan.
- There were coordinated air, land and sea assaults on Pakistan from all fronts. The intent in the eastern front was to capture Dhaka as it was the nerve-centre of the action. The objective on the western front was the prevention of Pakistanis from entering Indian soil.
- The war lasted only 13 days and it ended with the surrender of the Pakistani army on the Eastern front on 16 December 1971.
- The Instrument of Surrender was signed between the commanding officer of the Indian Eastern Command Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora and his Pakistani counterpart Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi.
- After the surrender, over 90000 POWs were taken by India, the largest surrender since the Second World War. Among them also included some Bengali nationals who had been loyal to West Pakistan.
- The war was a decisive victory for India and it established the military dominance of India over Pakistan.
- Pakistan suffered a humiliating defeat and it also led to the country being stripped of over half of its population. The new country of Bangladesh was established. Pakistan released Mujibur who became the first President of Bangladesh.
- In 1972, the Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan by which in lieu of the return of the Pakistani POWs, the Pakistan government would recognise the independence of Bangladesh.
- In July 2011, the Bangladesh government posthumously bestowed the Bangladesh Freedom Honour to Indira Gandhi.
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